InFlight: QF853 – Canberra to Melbourne (Business)

Flight: QF853

Carrier: Qantas

Class: Business

Route: Canberra to Melbourne (Business). This is actually the second review for this route in Business class on Qantas that I have written for my blog and the reason I decided to review it again is two fold. Firstly the first review was about a year ago and since then the competition in the pointy end of the plane has intensified with Virgin Australia now offering business class on most domestic flights. Thus I wanted to re-review the service to see if anything had really changed in the face of the Virgin competition. After you’ve had a read of this review feel free to compare it to the same review last year here.

The second reason for the review is to explain how I manage to fly in the pointy end of the plane domestically without ever actually paying cold hard cash for a business class ticket, which I’ll elaborate more on after departure. In the meantime, sit back, relax and enjoy the Where to From Here trip review service.

Runway Ready for Takeoff

Terminal: Regular blog readers will probably be used to my InFlight reviews starting out of Canberra and me referring to my previous lounge reviews as the starting point for the blog.  This review is no exception and if you haven’t been following before you can read the lounge review for the Qantas Business Lounge here or if you want to find out what I think of the Virgin Australia lounge, you can read about that here too. Next time I fly I should really do a review of the Qantas Club so that all 3 lounges in Canberra are reviewed. The only addition to today’s trip was that I got to the airport pretty early and managed to have both breakfast and lunch in the lounge before departure! I must admit that I am a huge fan of the bircher muesli for breakfast – anyone with the recipe send it my way please!

Departure: Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the review, I’ve been asked how I manage to afford to fly Business Class domestically, or more importantly maybe, why I do it on such short sectors say between Canberra and Melbourne or Sydney? I’d love to say that i do it because the airlines want me to review them and pay for my seats but the real answers are pretty simple for me; points and status. Points are how I do it and status is why I do it. I guess it’s all about how you value your points and what you want to do with them. I used to be a hoarder and only used points for overseas trips, but in doing that you run the risk that the airline might revalue your points along the way, or worse still not be there when you want to use your points. Plus the taxes and surcharges on some international routes makes it feel like you’re paying for the seat in addition to your points (which also applies to domestic bookings to a lesser extent). Thus for me I prefer to earn and burn them for short cheap domestic runs.

So why business class? Well if you really need to ask that question, maybe you should come fly with me one day but seriously, the cost of business class points flight is only double the cost of an economy class points flight. I say only double because the cost of a paid business class ticket is about 5 times the cost of a discounted economy ticket, and realistically that’s the class of ticket you would buy for a leisure trip. Also you earn 4 times the status (when booked as an any seat award) so why not. Before I digress too deep into ways to earn and burn your points, I’ll return you to the regular InFlight review. So it’s time now to sit back, ensure your tray tables are locked and your seat belts are fastened as I launch straight back I to the review of this today’s flight.

So since the last review Qantas have introduced priority boarding at selected airports however Canberra is yet to be selected so boarding was via the usual queue that stretches from the aircraft door to the lounge door on what was a full flight for a busy start to a long weekend. Once on board jackets were stowed and our take off juice or water was offered followed quickly by the newspaper round. So far nothing has really changed since the review a year ago, other than my growing love for the apple and strawberry juice. One notable and rather exciting change that is more due to the London Olympics than anything else was the inflight safety video.

As Qantas are a sponsor of the Australian Olympic team the safety video has been re-filmed, starring several Aussie athletes which I found to be a great bit of cross promotional work and also a way to freshen up the video and perhaps get some people watching it again. Filmed on what appears to be the A380 the athletes demonstrate the seat belts, adopt brace positions, don a life vest and extremely calmly put on their own oxygen masks before assisting the even calmer child next to them. Is gimmicky and will probably only be around for as long as the Olympics are but I found it a refreshing change to the standard video – perhaps more special event safety videos could be made? World Cup? Christmas?

With a slight southerly breeze we taxied to the northern end of the airport for a take off to the south off runway 17. I haven’t had this departure many times before, and similar to my arrival into Sydney on a Virgin ATR (which you can read about here) I was seated on the wrong side of the plane to get a good view of Canberra as we climbed out and practically circled the southern ACT. For those who like watching a take off, the video is available below (albeit from the less interesting side of the plane).

Seat: 1A – Although 1A looks great on the boarding pass it’s pretty much the same as any other seats in the convertible business class configuration on the 737-400’s. The seats are in a 2-2 configuration however the middle seat is still there with the armrests moved which can be expanded out to be standard economy 3-3. Being a bulkhead row you do get a little more legroom than those in rows 2-5 behind you, which have in my view a really poor amount of space for business class. If legroom is really important to you, I’d go for either 1D or 1F as that side has a small cut-out in the bottom of the bulkhead adding some more space for your feet. The seat itself is ok for a short flight but nothing when compared to newer business class seats offered by the competition or newer 737-800 Qantas birds.

Broken Window Frame
Qantas 737 Business Cabin

Aircraft: Boeing 737-400 (VH-TXJ). These birds have literally been doing the grunt work for Qantas and many other airlines globally for many years now, and the age is starting to show. Although its somewhat sad to see the last of any type of aircraft retired from service, I am really looking forward to the day a few less of these are operated into and out of Canberra – I’m keen for something newer, brighter and fresh. The interior window/window shade on the third window on the left of this particular aircraft was really showing signs of age, no longer sitting in place and not attached at the base. I pointed this out to the crew who were rather surprised and decided that engineering might want to take a look on arrival into Melbourne.

 IFE: Overhead monitors and a selection of radio stations is all that’s available on the 737-400’s and the daytime viewing is almost as bad as daytime TV. In the evening there’s often an episode of modern family however the day flight was pretty much just the news. At least the push button controls are more reliable than the old dials that still are commonplace but that doesn’t assist with the viewing choices. Sure its only a short flight but there isn’t really enough time to watch anything on your own device before electronics have to be turned off for landing. Another reason to replace more of these birds with the BSI planes I think.

Meal:  Lunch was served on this flight which is a much better than the refreshment served during non-core meal times. Thus if you want a good meal, try and plan your business class flights to core meal times – if in doubt check what type of meal, e.g. lunch or refreshment, when making the booking. The meal itself was some cold roast chicken with ranch dressing on a bed of some type of grain – I forgot the name and can’t remember what it’s called (if you recognize it in the picture leave a comment so I know for next time).

The chicken was nowhere near as dry as I’ve had previously and the dressing and grain with no name was lovely.  Hot bread rolls were served which when combined with the main and washed down with a glass of white wine and the delightful mini cake for desert made a filling and tasty meal for the sub 1 hour flight to Melbourne. Tea and coffee service concluded the meal, from which I opted for a relaxing peppermint tea. The crew don’t see, to advertise it but there is definitely peppermint tea available if you ask – perhaps other teas too.

Qantas Business Class Meal

Arrival: The flight to Melbourne was over relatively clear skies for the majority of the trip providing great views of fresh snow on parts of the Great Dividing Range and only clouded up as we got closer to Melbourne. Descending beneath the clouds we landed towards the south before taxing to the domestic concourse, arriving smoothly a few minutes early. For the first time in quite a while I had actually checked baggage using the Q-bag tags, and despite luggage arriving not long after arriving at the carousel my bag (and that of a few fellow business class passengers) was one of the later bags to make its way onto the belt. I understand that there are complexities in regards to aircraft loading but it would be nice if they worked out a way to make priority baggage a priority. Either way it didn’t add that much time however it seems rather pointless to mark a bag priority when in reality it’s really not.

Crew: I don’t think there were but it seemed like there were more crew than normal on this flight as the service was really well executed and the crew didn’t seem rushed at all. One of the crew found the time to stop and point out the snow covered mountain peaks to interested passengers which is unusual (not because seeing snow is unusual – although here it sort of is) but more so as they normally don’t seem to have time to after serving and cleaning up the meal service. The crew overall were polite and professional as you’d except but the engaging with and discussing passengers interest made he flight more comfortable and welcoming than some other flights I’ve experienced. I think it helped that most people were probably excited about starting their long weekend early and thus in a good mood to begin with.

Overall: The aim of this review was to compare and contrast the changes I’d observed since the first time I reviewed this route in Business a year ago. I found that the meal service had definitely improved, offering a much nicer and enjoyable meal experience than the sandwich I had a year earlier. I think the crew have also lifted their game as the service was much more comfortable than a year ago, although as with any flight the crew change so it can be the luck of the draw as to whether you get a good or great crew. The aircraft itself hasn’t changed, although it’s now another year older. Hopefully more BSI birds will get flying which will make an immense difference to the comfort and service levels on short haul routes in Australia. Overall the flight was a great way to start the long weekend, and I look forward to my next flight in the pointy end or even an opportunity to try out Virgin Australia’s business class product on a similar route soon to really compare the domestic business competition.

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